It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
***Special thanks to Althea Thompson | Publicity Coordinator, Charisma House | Charisma Media for sending me a review copy.***
Jedd Medefind serves as president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans. Prior to this role, he led the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives as a special assistant to President George W. Bush. He and his wife, Rachel, love the great outdoors and have four children. Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
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Erik Lokkesmoe is the founder and principal of Different Drummer, a LA/NYC-based audience and fan mobilization agency for top entertainment brands. Erik has a MA in public communications and a BA in political science. Erik and his wife, Monica, have three children. Hometown: New York, NY
Visit the author’s website.
Christians follow a Man who upends our most basic assumptions and expectations at every turn. Yet for many of us who claim to follow Him, our lives are not peculiar at all. If anything, we are a rather predictable people. We follow an upside-down God yet live right-side-up lives.
Yes, we often hear calls to more radical living. Sometimes we yearn for it. But often “radical” ends up being just an idea. But apprenticeship to Jesus is often far more costly. That’s why this book isn’t about big choices that make us radical. It’s mostly about small choices that begin to mirror the life of One who was radical indeed.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Passio (May 1, 2012)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
C h ap t e r 1
Eternal Truth and the Daily Grind
Most of the genocides of the twentieth century—from Communist Russia to China to Cambodia—were led by avowedly atheist gov- ernments. Often, pastors and priests were among the first killed. But the story of Rwanda’s genocide is more complex. Yes, many faithful Christian leaders were targeted for immediate death. But in 1994, when the horrific events of one hundred days took an estimated eight hundred thousand
lives, roughly 90 percent of Rwandans claimed to be Christians.
Experiencing the pictures and stories of the genocide in the Kigali Memorial Centre today, a thoughtful Christian cannot help but question in anguish, “How is this possible in any nation, let alone one that was sup- posedly so Christian?”
Rwandan pastor Antoine Rutayisire has grappled with this question himself. He experienced the searing pain of the genocide firsthand. In both anger and grief he explored what enabled such a profound gulf between professed religion and what played out in practice.
At the heart of the matter Rutayisire has concluded that the Christianity of most Rwandans was totally divorced from their ordinary lives. It had to do with heaven, but not earth; abstract doctrines, but not daily choices. Rutayisire explains how traditional African religions always carried implications for virtually every task and interaction, from animal husbandry to cooking. The imported Christianity that took root in much of Rwanda, in contrast, was “a kind of catechism based on memory but not touching issues of daily life.”
The issue was not simply that many Rwandans did not take religion seriously or didn’t carry sincere religious beliefs. Most all Africans do. The issue was that their Christianity carried almost no consequence for the small choices they made every day. The missionaries had taught cate- chisms and rituals, but not how Jesus would want them to manage a busi-
ness or interact with their neighbors.
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Rutayisire explains, “The consequence was that many people got bap- tized and integrated into churches, but every time when they ran into prob- lems, they fell back into traditional religion. . . . And in terms of conflict, they relied on what they had been taught by their fathers.”1
It is easy to view the savagery of Rwanda’s genocide and imagine it has nothing to do with us. But the simple truth is that the Christianity prac- ticed by many self-described Christians worldwide is not all that different from the religion practiced by the many Rwandans who failed to stop, or who even participated in, the genocide. It is a religion of great truths and noble ideas that remain largely disconnected from daily choices.
Even those of us who take our faith seriously can fall into the same trap, allowing gaps to form between Christian conviction and the activities of daily life. We study and explore doctrinal truths, but we often feel at a loss to explain how they affect the way we converse with friends, serve our boss, or invest retirement funds. We lack practical connection points between Christianity’s big ideas and what we do each day.
Like that of many Rwandans at the time of the genocide, our religion may feel real enough in the life of the mind. As Rutayisire would say, we have been baptized and integrated into churches. But we have not learned what it looks like to “walk as Jesus did.”2 So when practical decisions must be made, we fall back on habits and learning that really have little to do with the ways of Jesus. When tested, such religion disconnected from daily life is found profoundly lacking, whether in school or work, marriage or wider social engagement—just as it was in Rwanda.
the fataL spLit
Disconnecting Christian faith from daily experiences is not just unfortu- nate. It is deadly. We see its effects on a grand scale in the breathtaking evil of genocide, but just as surely in the withering of once-rich friendships, marriages grown cold, or children estranged.
Over a lifetime the disconnect becomes a trail of opportunities squan- dered. It is the possibility of living vibrantly, loving well, and leading in ways that leave lasting impact . . . lost forever.
At times even Christian teachers have encouraged this fatal split. They have elevated a higher realm of religious knowledge and activity above the lower realm of everyday life. But this view has no basis in Jesus or the apos- tles, nor the Old Testament either.3 Rather it was Greek philosophers and Gnostics who tried to divorce the spiritual from the physical. For them
abstract ideas were superior to the world around us. So spiritual progress required moving away from physical things. Their goal was to transcend the mess and muck of the ordinary.
In contrast, Christianity—like Judaism before it—affirmed that all God made was “very good.”4 Paul summed it up well to Timothy: “For every- thing God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”5 This includes work and recreation, food and wine, sex and friendship.
Yes, sin has marred these things profoundly. But God’s response is not to abandon or transcend ordinary, physical things. Rather, His plan from the start was to enter His creation in order to repair, renew, and restore.6
That same pattern is God’s call to His people as well. We are to take His truth and vitality into each day’s activities and interactions, just as Jesus did. Learning how to do so from Jesus is the lifelong adventure of the apprentice.
Though exceptional, there were many in Rwanda in 1994 who’d embraced this vision too. One was Celestin Musekura. As a pastor he’d sought both to teach and to live a practical, daily apprenticeship to Jesus. When the 1994 genocide began in his home country, he was completing his graduate studies in Kenya. While most everyone who could was rushing pell-mell out of Rwanda, Celestin headed in, risking his life to try to turn his fellow Hutu tribesmen from murder and to exhort Tutsis to resist the urge for revenge.
There were others too. As evil surged around them, they refused to par- ticipate or look the other way. Some hid neighbors in their homes. Others stared down machete-wielding mobs. Many died for their efforts to pro- tect innocent life. But they’d learned long before how to weld together eternal truth and their daily choices—and they continued to do so, even at immense cost.
Today, with anguish from the genocide yet pungent in Rwanda, Celestin and others like him continue to live as apprentices to Jesus. Though still mourning profound loss, they forgive those who killed their dear friends, family members, and neighbors. Risking the hatred of their own tribes members, they build reconciliation in their communities and churches. Slowly they are reweaving the fabric of Rwanda.
Explains Celestin, “Amidst the bloody history of tribal hatred, Africa’s only hope lies in a Christianity that pervades our lives down to the smallest
things, when our identity in Christ supersedes our tribal identity. It is costly. But the alternative costs even more.”7
Can We reaLLy do it today?
Living two thousand years away from Jesus’s time on earth, it may seem overblown to speak of actually becoming an apprentice to Him. Looking closer, however, we realize that the experience of Jesus’s first apprentices is not as different from ours as we might think.
Paul, like us, never walked with Jesus. Yes, the twelve disciples did have the privilege of observing Jesus in person. But it was only for three short years. And truth be told, they didn’t do particularly well as apprentices while Jesus was still with them. It was only after Jesus’s departure, when they were in much the same situation we are now, that they really began to look like His apprentices in their attitudes and actions.
For them and all who’ve followed since, the core of apprenticeship has always been the same. Responding to God’s grace and empowered by His Spirit, the apprentice marks the words and ways of the Master—and then puts them into practice.
Follow Me, Jesus offers to us too. It is a summons to learn not just about
Him but also from Him.
Person a l Note s: Jedd
With college graduation nearing, law school seemed the next logical step for a guy who didn’t have the prerequisites for any other graduate studies. But talking with many who’d walked that road gave me pause. So few loved what they did. The grinding hours at big firms brought fat paychecks but seemed to snuff out enthusiasm and purpose.
Three close friends of mine were grappling with similar thoughts. We each wanted badly to engage the world fully and experience Christ’s life to the full. Just as much, we feared that the ladder of success might lead to far less than we hoped for out of life.
So, with a blend of hope and desperation, we put grad school and pay- checks on hold. Instead, we’d spend the year living with and learning from committed Christians around the globe—people who served God and neighbor faithfully in their own native lands. Most of all, we hoped to taste life at its fullest . . . and learn how to keep that going for five or six decades. The months ahead were indeed the adventure of a lifetime: from the Guatemalan highlands to Russia’s frozen north, Africa’s mountain kingdom
to the endless rice fields of Bangladesh.
But there was a sobering element too. No matter how thrilling a place was when we first arrived, we were struck by how quickly exciting wears off. Adrenaline ebbs. Exotic becomes commonplace. We saw with dismal
clarity that the life to the full we sought wouldn’t be found in relentless adventure alone.
Yet alongside this realization, hope glimmered. It wasn’t in the buzz of novelty or grand exploits but in a number of the local Christians we served alongside. Their work and relationships weren’t exotic to them. Many had done what they were doing for years. They delivered medical care to Guatemalan peasants; taught wrestling and Jesus in Russian orphanages; created simple business opportunities for the poor in Thailand; led secret house churches in Communist Vietnam. Their work and daily choices were mostly quiet, steady. Some weren’t in full-time ministry at all. Yet their days blazed with the kind of purpose and humble joy we hoped would fill ours to our last breath. With countless small choices to follow Jesus, they infused daily life with eternal life.
That journey taught us more than we could recount. But what I most pray will shape my choices is still that simple realization. Life to the full isn’t found out there —in far-off adventure, or a much-anticipated change, or the next stage in life. Rather, it’s found in ordinary places and daily choices to love and give and serve with abandon for Christ’s sake.
not MereLy a huMan pursuit
We must know from the start that apprenticeship is not merely a human pursuit. Its wellspring is always response to God’s grace. It is surrounded by faithful witnesses from every generation. It is engaged as part of a com- munity, both local and global, called the church. It is nourished continu- ally by God’s living Word. It is undertaken with a continual sense of gift, never earning or merit.
Perhaps most importantly, Jesus promised His apprentices a mighty Helper. The Holy Spirit works continually, both within and alongside the true apprentice. He encourages, convicts, provokes, guides, enlightens. Apart from the Spirit, our labors become wearisome toil. But as we wel- come His labor inside and around us, beauty and good fruit spring from even our most feeble efforts.
The fact that apprenticeship to Jesus is not merely a human pursuit, however, does not mean that it happens apart from the human choices that go into most any other form of apprenticeship. We would not imagine we could become an excellent chef or doctor or painter simply by waiting for it to happen to us. Nor can we if we desire to become like Jesus.
We must learn from Him how to do so via practical, daily, real-world decisions. Choice by choice we participate with the Holy Spirit in bringing our understanding, character, and daily actions into alignment with those of the Master.8
This book explores just one facet of this apprenticeship: how we commu- nicate. Yet there may be no better place to begin. For we are all communi- cators, and how we do so shapes both the quality and outcomes of virtually everything we do. If we can become a true apprentice of Jesus in this, it will touch every relationship and undertaking.
The approach we will take together is straightforward. Like Jesus’s apprentices in every age, we study the words and ways of the Master recorded in the Gospels and amplified in all of Scripture. We take special note of how He spoke and served through speech, how He listened and led, how He connected and conveyed. We consider carefully how what we see can be reflected in our daily choices. We learn from others too who have done the same before us.
All of this we offer frequently to God in prayer. We ask from Him more- than-human insight and perseverance. We invite the vivifying, guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Then, ideally as part of a community that shares our commitment, we put what we see into practice.
If we are ever to connect the lofty convictions we claim with what we do day in and day out, this is where we must begin. Here we start to knit together eternal truth with our jobs and parenting, marriage and friendships. Over time every interaction increasingly reflects the heart
graCe and effort
Person a l Note s: Jedd
My dad was twenty-one when he first donned the flat-brimmed hat of a Yosemite ranger. Never had he wanted anything more. But learning the ropes in 1969 was nothing like the myriad classes and certifications that novice rangers undergo today. Instead, Dad was paired with a veteran ranger and sent out to learn in action.
He hadn’t been on the force long when the old-timer he’d been paired
with, Ranger Utterback, slid from their parked patrol car into the night. “We’re seeing a lot of drugs used and sold in this camping area,” explained Utterback. He held up his hand as Dad began to follow. “Leave the hat in the car. Too obvious.”
Raucous laughter drew them through the darkness to a group gathered around a fire on the edge of camp. Dad followed as Utterback moved into a space shadowed by a large pine. Marijuana smoke hung dense in night air. In those days even possession of the drug was a felony.
As Utterback prepared to step into the firelight, Dad stopped him. “I’ve never made an arrest,” he warned.
“Just watch what I do and do what I do,” whispered Utterback.
That phrase became the theme of the summer, from serving arrest war- rants to chasing break-in bears out of cabins. Dad watched, then replicated. Looking back, he describes, “Rangers joining the force today have some advantages in all the formal training.” However, he observes, “when you learned by putting on the uniform and following a veteran, you saw how to do it. The things you can’t get from a book or a class. How to convince a hostile crowd to cooperate, calm down a hurt child, or scare off a bear with- out hurting it. If you have the desire, you absorb all of this from the veteran
in the field in a way you just can’t fully learn in a classroom.”
Riding horse patrol one morning with another veteran ranger, Don Pimontel, Dad encountered one of the most beautiful scenes he’d ever laid eyes on. As the two men crested a mountain pass, the snow-laden peaks of Yosemite’s vast north country rose ahead of them. Overhead, thunder- heads billowed heavenward, painted with every shade of dark and light. Immediately below opened a meadow, fragrant and glowing purple in a sea of lupine flowers.
Dad sat on his horse, awash in wonder. Unexpectedly, tears began to fill his eyes. He pushed them back and set his jaw as he imagined a ranger ought. But when he glanced over at Ranger Pimontel, that illusion was ban- ished forever. Pimontel’s leathered face glistened, wet with tears.
“I didn’t just learn from him there; I felt with him,” Dad shared with me decades later, “I knew it was OK to feel the beauty. God’s beauty.”
Dad learned that summer not just as a student but as an apprentice. Facts and information were certainly part of the training. But the most important elements went deeper. The veteran rangers like Utterback and Pimontel provided what no classroom teacher could. This included habits and skills Dad had not possessed before, which increasingly became second nature. Perhaps even more significant, they conveyed new perspectives, commit- ments, and even intuition. The veterans’ time-tested ways of protecting and serving could hardly be put into words; yet they were passed from one gen- eration of rangers to another as Dad carefully observed and then put them into practice.
The intentionality and effort suggested by the term apprentice may make some Christians uncomfortable. Sometimes this discomfort is little more than a slumbering spirit; we may not like the idea of putting serious disci- pline into changing behavior and beliefs that we feel are good enough. Or there may also be another, more legitimate discomfort. Does an emphasis on our role and our disciplines of apprenticeship undercut His grace? Might it lead toward pride and “work-your-way-to-heaven” righteousness? Could desire to grow more like Jesus in action change our focus from gratitude at what God has done into a self-consumed bravado in what we are doing?
History reveals that there is, in fact, danger in that direction. Whole movements have grown up around efforts to earn the favor of both God
and man by straining for spiritual attainment. Such quests can feed arro-
gance and self-centeredness as gasoline feeds a fire.
Grace is opposed to earning, not effort.
So we would do well to proceed with care. To imagine we could somehow earn God’s favor is utter vanity. As Jesus portrays in story, it’d be like a household servant imagining he could pay off a debt equivalent to two hundred thousand years of wages.9 God’s grace alone is the wellspring of His favor and heaven’s only door. We must never forget that.
Yet . . .
Despite the hazards, Jesus never watered down His call to apprenticeship. Rather, He urges us to hold two counter-weighted truths at the same time. On one side, joyous gratitude at God’s unmerited forgiveness and love. On the other, a robust response to that gift expressed in obedient action.
As Dallas Willard puts it, “Grace is opposed to earning, not effort.”10
Jesus depicts this truth in story at the end of His Sermon on the Mount. Two builders are constructing homes. As the old Sunday school song describes, the wise man built his house upon the rock. The foolish man built his house upon the sand. The rains came down and the floods came up, and the house on the sand went splat.
What distinguished the two builders? Not abstract belief. Not iden- tity as a Christian. As Jesus bluntly explains, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. . . . But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”11
This down-to-earth, put-it-into-practice vision was especially vivid on Jesus’s last night with His disciples. Although unequivocally the Master, He strips Himself of His status both literally and figuratively. Wearing little but a towel, He kneels and scrubs dirt from between their toes. Then, rising and redressing, He puts the Master-apprentice relationship into words: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done.”12
a ChaMpion of gift and diLigenCe
Perhaps no living person has ever more fully celebrated the wonder of God’s unmerited favor than that great apprentice to Jesus, the apostle Paul. Paul viewed everything as a gift, including the very inclination to follow as Jesus’s apprentice. As he put it simply in 1 Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive?”13
Yet this same Paul described his own apprenticeship to Christ not only as receiving a gift but also as serious exertion. He knew better than any that grace saves us. Yet intense effort defined his pursuit of Christlikeness. “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. . . . Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize.”14
Every part of the Christian faith requires gripping two seemingly oppo- site realities at once.
> Justice and mercy
> Contrition and confidence
> Gentleness and bold truth
> A Savior who was fully God and fully man
In apprenticeship, we must do the same. We cling unyieldingly to the lavish, unmerited gift of grace. And we hold with equal passion to a vision for pursuing apprenticeship with abandon.
The outcome of holding this apparent contradiction together is a result worth longing for. Paul described himself as “the worst” of sin- ners.15 Nevertheless, as an apprentice to Jesus, he could declare without flinching, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”16
How could Paul claim that God’s peace would rest on those who prac- ticed not just what he taught, but what they saw him do? Not simply because he’d become a “good man.” Rather, Paul had come to mirror both the char- acter and behavior of the Master. So he could say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”17
What a breathtaking thing it would be to meet a person today who could, in humility, say the same. Imagine it being said of you, “Follow the way she speaks and listens, for she mirrors the example of Jesus.” “Follow
the way he leads and loves, for he reflects the words and ways of Jesus.” Impossible? Not if we believe the Scriptures.
Yes, we will always struggle against sin. But we can have every reason for confidence that in five or ten years from now (even one!) we will look more like Jesus than we do today.
As we grow as Jesus’s apprentices, our small choices and daily habits increasingly reflect the Master’s. As explored in the chapters ahead, we become more fully present before others; the ideas we convey become more tangible; our manner is recognized as more authentic; our questions guide and inspire; we present not just facts, but set them in stories that give facts meaning; our words carry greater vision and weight.
Choice by choice, small act by small act, we “are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.”18 Not just in theory, but also in the visible, tangible actions that meld eternal truth with daily life. Praise be to God that He never leaves us where we are.
Person a l Note s: Erik
Apprenticeship demands humility. The very act of apprenticing to a master is acknowledging your own inabilities. You know less. You need to learn. You don’t have what it takes yet. Maybe that is why so many of us are reluctant to be an apprentice: it’s hard to submit to others. That is my chal- lenge, at least.
Early on in my career I served as a deputy for a senior speechwriter. He would pass me the ceremonial events—the award ceremony for a top employee, a ribbon cutting at the factory—and on a good week, he might let me take a swing at a first draft of a major speech.
“Good start,” he would say, and then inevitably hack away until only a few of my original lines remained—and even then, he would take credit for everything.
It was not humbling—it was humiliating.
“I’m better than him,” I would think, especially after lunch when he would kick up his feet on the desk, lean back in his chair, and sleep for two hours. I had no interest in being his apprentice. Maybe that showed. Eventually, my job became nothing more than printing speeches on 4 x 6 cards for
delivery to our boss.
It was a difficult season, but an important one. Looking back, I wasn’t ready. I needed to study great speeches, listen to the tone and cadence of leaders, and perfect my craft.
I thought I had it all figured out, just as Simon did until Jesus approached his boat.
The fifth chapter of Luke tells the story of Jesus teaching on the shoreline of a lake. A crowd is pressing in, and Jesus pushes back in a boat to cre- ate space and to amplify His voice off the water. Professional fisherman are nearby, cleaning nets after a dismal day of fishing.
“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (v. 4). Simon questions the Master, as all of us surely would and certainly do. I am the professional. I know what I am doing. This is not a good spot or time to fish. He relents, drops his nets. And the abundance of fish almost topples the boats and tears the nets. “They came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink” (v. 7).
Then Simon repents, Jesus calls him to a new life, and he leaves everything—even his boats and nets and crew—to follow the Master.
The simplicity of the story is beautiful. Jesus comes to you with an absurd request—Erik, leave the professional stuff to Me— and yet He is faithful and fulfilling, which leads to a humble repentance and a life renewed. Apprenticing Jesus isn’t a hollow echo of Jesus’s life and words. It’s not a self-awareness or self-preserving. Its about a real submission to living under the audacious authority of Jesus, the Master who will ask for everything we have so He can give us everything we need. We come empty. Ready. Humble. Only then can He begin.
In Upended, the authors challenge Christians to not live the easy, comfortable Christian life that most are accustomed to. Instead, to become an apprentice to Jesus. By making small changes, that reading this book will help you with, the reader will learn that these small changes will lead to big changes in the world around us.
I found Upended challenging. If your like me, some of the chapters will be easy, while others are quite challenging. Challenging us to remake our lives and thereby remaking our world.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a free book in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”